Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to Eat Like a Roman!

Hello and welcome to Eat Like a Roman, the blog where we share information, links, images, recipes, and thoughts about ancient Roman dining.  This week we sampled some typical Roman bar food-- lentils, chick peas, two kinds of stuffed grape-leaves, lagana, mixtura, and mustacei.  Not the delicacies we read about in descriptions of Roman banquets, but cheap, nourishing food that could be bought in popinae (fast food bars) on street-corners, along with some wine to wash it down.

Here are three of this week's recipes-- the rest will follow in another post.

LAGANA (courtesy of Hesychius via Mark Grant, Roman Cookery)
1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
3 1/2 fl. oz. water
Olive oil for frying

Measure the flour into a bowl and add the flour.  Knead into a stiff dough-- you can do this in a standing mixer, a food processor fitted with a dough blade, or, as the Romans did, by hand.  If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour; if too dry, add a bit more water.  The dough should be smooth and elastic.

Flour a work surface and roll out the ball of dough, turning  frequently to prevent sticking, adding more flour to the work surface when necessary.  When dough is almost paper thin, sprinkle a little flour over the top and roll it up like a strudel.  Fill a large skillet with about half an inch of olive oil (you can mix the olive oil with a cheaper  vegetable or canola oil, half and half, if you want to save some $$, but there should be at least 50 % olive oil).

 Cut the rolled up dough 2 or 3 inch sections.  When the oil is shimmering hot, unroll one section and cut into approx. 3 inch pieces.  It doesn't matter if the pieces are irregular in size.

Test the temp. of the oil by dropping one piece of dough into the oil.  If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.  If not, wait longer and try again.  When it is hot enough, fry the dough pieces, 5 or 6 at a time.  You want to get  both sides golden.  The dough will puff up a bit, and I found it took about two minutes on one side, about a minute on the second side, but this will vary depending on the heat of the oil and the size of the lagana.

While one batch fries, unroll and cut up another section.  Adjust the heat if the lagana seems to be burning.

If you fry these properly (i.e., wait until the oil is hot enough), you should be able to cook all of the dough without having to add more oil to the pan. 

CHICK PEAS WITH SAFFRON (courtesy of Athenaeus via Mark Grant, Roman Cookery)

7 ounces (approx half a 1 pound bag) of dried chickpeas
A generous pinch of saffron (1/2 tsp?)
Sea salt

Soak chickpeas in water (about 2 inches higher than the level of the chickpeas) overnight.
Drain, then put in a heavy pan with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Add saffron and sea salt to taste (at least a tsp).

Once the water boils, cover the pan, reduce heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for approx. an hour.  Cooking time for chickpeas varies wildly. Test by biting into a chickpea.  If it is tender and easy to bite, the dish is done. 

Drain, then taste again for salt.  If you like, add more, a pinch at a time until you feel happy.

MIXTURA CUM CASEO--herb purée with cheese (Courtesy of Columella via Mark Grant)

1 leek
3.5  oz. feta cheese
3.5 oz. grated cheddar cheese
3 or 4 mint leaves
1 small head of lettuce (we used Boston)
handful of arugula leaves
handful of coriander leaves
handful of parsley
sprig each  of rue, thyme, pennyroyal, savory [we couldn't find any of these fresh, so we used a tsp. of dried thyme and 5 or 6 fresh basil leaves]
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil

All the greens need to be washed and dried-- a salad spinner will really help, but dishtowels will work.
First, cut off the dark green part of the leek and discard.  Then cut off the root end, slice the leek lengthwise, and then into thin crosswise slices.  Put in a bowl of water and shake the layers apart with your hands.  Let settle, then lift the leek out and discard the sandy water.

Remove the bottom of the lettuce and slice it into smaller pieces.  Wash the lettuce, arugula, parsley, and coriander, and dry in salad spinner or on dishtowels.

Steam the leek until tender.  If you don't have a steamer, briefly dunk it in boiling water-- a minute or two should do.  Drain, put in food processor.

Break up the feta into small pieces, put in food processor.  Add the grated cheese.  Put as much of the  lettuce/herb mix into the food processor as will fit.  Add the vinegar and pepper.  Process until you have room to put in more of the greens.  Keep doing that until you have pureed all the ingredients into a pesto-like consistency.

Serve drizzled with olive oil, with bread, raw vegetables, and/or lagana.

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